There have been a number of recent incursions into Irish controlled airspace by the Russian air force. Most recently Tupolev TU–95 bomber aircraft, triggered UK Royal Air Force fighter jets to scramble in order to confront the Russian aircraft.
According to military experts, Kremlin may be trying to exploit post-Brexit UK-Ireland. Reliable sources indicate that there is an agreement between the UK and Ireland permitting the Royal Air Force to enter Irish airspace if deemed necessary, though the specific nature of this arrangement is not clear.
Retired commander Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who was the commanding general of the US Army in Europe from 2014 to 2017, said that the Kremlin may be trying to pick at “a seam” that has developed between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit.
Russia is flying bombers into Irish-controlled airspace to test response times by the RAF and other Nato airforces and to “map” radar coverage, according to a former US army commander in Europe.
Last week two Russian Tupolev TU-95 Bear bombers entered international airspace controlled by the Irish Aviation Authority off Ireland’s west coast on two occasions. The incursions prompted the United Kingdom to scramble British RAF Typhoon fighter jets to intercept.
It was reported last Friday that, on a third flight mission in six days, two Russian Tupolev TU-160 White Swan strategic bombers flew around the northern coast of Scotland and south along the west coast of Ireland before turning for home in the Bay of Biscay.
Three RAF Typhoon fighters were dispatched from the RAF base at Lossiemouth in Scotland to track them.
Retired Lieut Gen Hodges said he believes the flights are part of Russia’s interest in “mapping out the contours” of radar coverage around the so-called Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, a significant geopolitical and strategic area in international airspace and waters.
Ireland’s status as a non-Nato country could be seen by Russia as “a seam that could be exploited”, he said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that they are doing reconnaissance there. The submarine activity out there is just as much of a concern and for the same reasons,” said Lieut Gen Hodges.
The retired three-star general, who commanded combat forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, oversaw the expansion of US military co-operation with Ukraine after 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and supported armed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
“They are testing response times and techniques. They do this all around the Black Sea as well as up in the Atlantic and in the Baltic region,” the retired general told The Irish Times.
He added that he expects the Russians to “continue testing to see how we respond, to continue to do reconnaissance, to map out the contours of what the radar coverage is and what can we do. This all goes into their big data effort to use for a rainy day.”
The former officer in command put the expansion of the Russian embassy in Rathgar, south Dublin, down to the Kremlin’s same strategic interest.
“The growth of the Russian embassy in Dublin is not a coincidence. Russia is paying more and more attention to Ireland because of the change in dynamics because of Brexit,” he said.